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6 Stop Bothering Me Trade Offs by Harold Winter
Negative Externalities • A negative externality is when an individual's private action imposes a cost on another individual. – The owner of a factory may only be concerned with selfishly maximizing profit and not with the consequences of the pollution emitted into the air. – Thus, private actions may impose social costs, and laws and regulations are often designed to control these costs.
Neighbor’s Party • For the most part, legal cases in which damages may be assessed deal with physical externalities. – This makes good sense because physical damages are more likely to be measurable than are psychic damages.
There Goes the Sun • In a 1959 case, two neighboring luxury hotels in Florida went to court to settle a property dispute. – The Fontainebleau’s addition would cast a shadow in the afternoon over the swimming pool and sunbathing area of the Eden Roc Hotel. • In a 1982 case, the owner of a solar heated house, Prah, sued the owner of a neighboring property, Maretti, who was building a house. – Maretti's house, when completed, would block the sunlight from reaching Prah's solar panels and prevent the solar heating system from being effective.
Prah Wins • “access to sunlight has taken on a new significance in recent years. In this case the plaintiff seeks to protect access to sunlight, not for aesthetic reasons or as a source of illumination but as a source of energy. Access to sunlight as an energy source is of significance both to the landowner who invests in solar collectors and to a society which has an interest in developing alternative sources of energy. ”
Reasoning in Prah • The court in the Prah case is making the wrong comparison. • It doesn't matter at all how the value of the sunlight to a homeowner compares to the value of the sunlight for a hotel. • The key comparison in each case is the value of the sunlight to one party versus the value of blocking the sunlight to the other party. • If we consider the goal of allocating resources to their highest valued use, determining the highest valued use is at issue in each case. – Fortunately, that determination may never have to be explicitly made.
Example • Assume that the Eden Roc values the sunlight at $1 million, and the Fontainebleau values the extension that blocks the sunlight at $2 million. – Furthermore, assume that the court has no idea of what either of these values are. – How should the court decide?
Prah and Moore • An identical analysis can be used for the Prah case. – Whoever has the highest valued use will end up having their way, whether or not they are awarded the property right or if they have to pay the other party. – Both of these cases are also similar to the Moore case (from chapter 3) involving the doctors profiting from taking their patient's cells. • The gains from trade were so phenomenal that it wouldn't matter what the court did—the cells would eventually end up in the hands of the doctors.
Transaction Costs • When two parties refuse to negotiate with each other, the highest valued use of a resource may not be achieved. – The fact that the two parties are in court seems to suggest that they are not working out their problems in the first place. – The first issue is to establish a well-defined property right, which means that the court can make it clear which party has the right over the sunlight.
Protecting the Right • Once a property right is established, the second issue the court must deal with is how that right should be protected. – One simple way to protect a property right is to use a property rule. – With a well defined right, the parties are left to their own devices to work out whatever problems they may have.
An Alternative: A Liability Rule • When negotiation costs are high, and parties are unlikely to negotiate, a property rule may not achieve the efficient outcome. – A liability rule that dictates the payment schedule allows for one party to influence the behavior of another party without any negotiation.
Property Rule or Liability Rule? • To the extent that individuals can negotiate, the assignment of the property right is the key aspect of resolving a negative externality. – If the parties can't (or won't) negotiate, a property rule can only work if the efficient outcome is known. – If the efficient outcome is not known but some information is available, a liability rule may allow for the efficient outcome to be achieved. – If no information at all is available, it is very difficult to efficiently resolve a negative externality.
Secondhand Smoke • The issue of secondhand smoke is one of the most contentious negative externality issues currently facing society. – Winter’s bridge game example. • Restaurants • In the smoking/antismoking war, there may be no greater battle ground than the issue of banning smoking in public places.
ETS • Assume that secondhand smoke does create adverse health effects in nonsmokers. • As with most pollution examples, it is not difficult to accept that one person's actions can impose costs on another person. – The difficult question involves the appropriate trade off between the polluter and the victim.
High Transaction Costs • Unlike the examples involving the two hotels or the two neighbors, it is extremely unlikely that smokers and nonsmokers will generally be able to negotiate a solution, even if the property right is well defined. – This may help explain why there is a loud outcry against smoking in public places, and why many localities are banning smoking in bars and restaurants.
A Market Solution? • Despite the fact that patrons of these establishments may not be able to negotiate mutually agreeable outcomes, it does not mean that a market mechanism does not exist. – The restaurant business is generally highly competitive. – Restaurant owners can compete for customers across many dimensions. – If the smoking policy is a key competitive weapon, the market may easily sort itself out by naturally allowing for restaurants to simultaneously exist with different smoking policies in place.
It Takes Two to Tango • Any externality requires the participation of at least two parties— the polluter and the victim. – Although the polluter bears the burden of being the one who actively creates the pollution, the victim must actually be affected for an externality to exist. – This suggests that there can be at least two crude ways of preventing an externality: • prevent the polluter from polluting. • relocate the victim.
Other Arguments for Smoking Bans • A ban would be financially beneficial to those establishments, as more people will eat out. – If restaurants and bars can make more profits by banning smoking, why haven't they done so already? • A ban protects the employees of these establishments. – The problem with this reasoning is that there is no compelling evidence that workers who are unsatisfied with certain job conditions can't find other jobs.
A Market Mechanism • Just as a restaurant owner can try to determine the best smoking policy for customers, an employer can determine the best smoking policy for workers. • This policy may involve a complete ban at the workplace, or special smoking areas, but there exists a market mechanism that can deal with the issue of smoking at the work place. • This market mechanism may not work perfectly, and social intervention may be useful in dealing with ETS, but the main point is that social intervention is not necessarily required to handle the negative externality of secondhand smoke in "public" places.
Death Credit? • If you were to compare the medical costs incurred by a smoker and a nonsmoker, the evidence is clear that a smoker has higher medical costs. – On average smokers live 6 to 8 fewer years than nonsmokers. – So, from a lifetime perspective, smokers may incur fewer costs involving nursing home care, pension payments, and social security payments. • The concept of a financial savings, or a death credit, that smokers yield because of their lower life expectancy is extremely controversial.
Death Credit (cont’d) • When the idea of a death credit was initially raised, it was greeted with such words as ghoulish, repugnant, and immoral. – Assume you are bearing the financial responsibility of caring for an elderly relative who resides in a private nursing home. – There comes a time when, sadly, your relative passes away. • At that point, however, the nursing home continues to bill you for six more years. – There is no denying that your financial burden was eased at the passing of your relative.